Exhibitions: Light of the Sufis: The Mystical Arts of Islam

KashkÅ«l, or Beggar’s Bowl

Kashkūl, or Beggar’s Bowl, with Portrait of Dervishes and a Mounted Falconer. Iran, A.H. 1280/1880 C.E. Coco-de-mer shell and chain. Brooklyn Museum, Henry L. Batterman Fund, 47.203.5

Kashkūls carried the donations on which dervishes relied for sustenance and also functioned as drinking vessels or food containers for wandering ascetics. They simultaneously symbolized the emptying of the Sufi’s soul or ego through the renunciation of worldly goods and aspirations, and the nourishment of that soul with divine knowledge. Many kashkūls bear inscriptions invoking God, the house of the prophet Muhammad, or the twelve Shiʿa imams. The bowls were produced in a variety of media and were held or hung from the shoulder by metal chains. The earliest examples date to the thirteenth or fourteenth century, but their form may have been derived from crescent- and boat-shaped wine bowls made in pre-Islamic Iran. This example was made from the nutshell of the coco-de-mer palm native to islands of the Indian Ocean. The shells’ lengthy sea voyage to the shores of Iran carries special significance as a metaphor for the Sufi’s mystical journey. It includes a portrait of dervishes with tamed cats and two small kashkūls. Verses of Persian mystical poetry have been engraved into the rim:

Whoever has a pure soul as I do is welcome to the solitude of the dervishes;

An example of virtue even tames animals; this is owing to the deeds of the dervishes;

Whoever speaks of the radiance of the dervishes deserves the goblet of wine;

I will be among the dervishes, for all eternity, away from eternal evil.